Up-scaling Cafe’ Malzahn for 2014

By Posted on: April 4th, 2014 in Football 5 Comments »


Serious-tiger-sports-a-wild-necktie

Coat and tie are now required

Welcome back to the Cafe Malzahn. We’ve revamped our menu to offer the latest Tiger-friendly cusine. Same inviting environment, same excellent service for an elegant dining experience unmatched anywhere. We hope you enjoy your meal from our extensive selection of fast seared, quick braized and speed grilled SEC meats served to you in record time.

Any analysis needs to be reviewed for relevance from time to time. My amatuer statistics are no exception. One of the most glaring anomolies I found last season was that teams seemed to have outlier quirks in my assessment that defied logic. For example, I would often find that a team being analyzed would show awful statistics on offense, yet have exceptional red zone performance. There were also examples of exceptional offenses that had disturbingly poor red zone numbers.

When I looked further, I found that sometimes the kicking game would skew these numbers. So I looked at Red Zone touchdown production for the last seven years for Auburn and had another ‘ah hah’ moment.

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Take a look at the Red Zone production in 2007, 2011 and 2012, where Auburn had some of the worst offensive production in the last decade and see how it is jarringly divergent from the Red Zone Touchdown production in those same years. In 2008, Wes Byrum was asked to kick quite a few slim percentage long balls and his success suffered.

Call it the Cody-Coefficient, or the Byrum-Bump, or the Last Second Variable, but the scoring rating is often influenced by the presence or absence of a gifted kicker. As teams fail to score touchdowns in the Red Zone, they often settle for scoring field goals and the efficiency of kickers may keep the Red Zone scoring artificially inflated (or deflated), and not reflect what is actually happening. One the defensive side, there was also a need to reflect the ability of ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ defenses that regularly prevent touchdowns with impressive goal line stands.

To settle this, I’ve added a new measure – that of Red Zone touchdown percentage, calculated by the SEC champion teams since 2007. To fit the ‘ER’ rating, I’ve weighted each of these as half a point each. My logic is that both of these numbers are important, but I wanted to keep the calculations simple and straight forward. Hopefully, this should help clarify just how good a team’s offense and defense really are in a compressed field.

By the way, every kicker has a bad day. Cody Parkey did. Wes Byrum had several in 2008. Cade Foster had an exceptionally bad one under the lights of Jordan Hare and the red eyes of the television cameras, but if you look at his overall percentage, he was a money kicker for his team. Know what the statistical difference was between him, Wes and Cody? One career kick over four years. All three were in the 74-75 percentile. If Cade had made just one more kick in those four years, he would have a higher scoring percentage than either Wes or Cody.

I take that back, there WAS one other difference – the respective fan bases for each player. But as you well know there’s no accounting for taste, class or sense in that other crowd.

More after the bump.

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“Ask about our speedy take out service”

Here is the new standard for the 2014 season:

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A review of how we arrived at the above numbers is in order. Taking the last seven years of data for SEC Champions looks like this for the first four years.

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For the last three years, however, I included both Auburn’s numbers and the rather fantastic numbers generated by FSU in 2013.

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This put me in a quandary. As I mentioned previously, FSU’s numbers came from beating up on relatively hapless ACC teams and did not really reflect the same competition faced by the previous six years of BCS champions that I had measured. Rather than skew the numbers too much by including this outlier into the formula, I decided with the end of the Bowl Championship Series, I should concentrate on just the SEC Champions instead. This way, the numbers reflect the teams that we’ll be playing against every year, especially considering that the new formula of the four team playoff will involve yet another game to skew the percentages on the national level.

This is also why I included LSU instead of Alabama for 2011. They were the SEC champions that year and both those and Auburn’s 2013 numbers are what I used for the latest Cafe Malzahn calculations.

As for excluding FSU, I believe Auburn’s numbers are a better measure, even though they may seem less impressive at first glance. For when I parsed what FSU accomplished against the two SEC teams they played (Auburn and Florida), it paints another picture of the BCS champion of 2013.

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Quite surprising, isn’t it? FSU creamed Florida in their annual rivalry game and edged out a very good Auburn team by a late score, but the numbers generated are well down in the mere mortal region rather than the Olympian statistics they generated battling the rest of the ACC. The most significant measures I found were their paltry 3rd down conversion rates on both sides of the ball in the BCS championship game.

So moving forward, I’ve decided to compare only apples to apples in future Cafe Malzahn analysis and will just concentrate on the SEC  Conference Championship. I may still include stats for the out of conference games for comparison sake, but anything beyond the SEC will be considered inaccurate and relevant only in a very general manner. As any carpenter or mechanic will tell you, one of the best measures of quality of work is knowing the proper tool for a given job. Just because you have a good hammer, doesn’t mean every job you face is a nail.

Speaking of moving forward, with the A-Day game just a couple of weeks away and the entire tone and tenor of the fan base drastically changed from this same time last year, I thought I’d include the following analysis to show just how dramatic this Auburn team has improved from the Spring of 2013.

I split the analysis of last year’s 14 games right down the middle, calculating the difference from the early season jitters of the period between the Washington State to Texas A&M games from the rest of the season, Amen Corner, the SEC and BCS title race. Putting the numbers side by side is instructive:

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A few things jump right off the screen at me. On the positive side, the Red Zone TD rate for offense and defensive 3rd Down conversion rate show incredible improvement. Together, both brought Auburn to within 13 seconds of taking the BCS championship. Along with the outstanding performances by our players both Rhett Lashlee and Ellis Johnson deserve a tremendous amount of credit for last year’s transformation. Nearly all other teams fade as the competition improves, but these Tigers stood tall as the pressure and stakes increased. That more than any other sign shows me there was much more to this team than a couple of lucky breaks. This team earned every win down the stretch.

On the negative side, defensive Points per Game, Yards per Play and Red Zone percentages show the impact of some really big plays in the final few games, specifically the second half of the Georgia game, AJ McCarron’s 99-yard TD strike in the Iron Bowl, and several coverage miscues in both the SEC and BCS championship games.

Yet overall there was substantial improvement as the season progressed, and against improved competition. Both halves of the season had the same won-loss record – 6 wins and 1 loss. In the first seven games Auburn played only two teams that ended the season in the top 25 – LSU (16) and TAMU (21). The last seven games involved statistics compiled against a top twenty-five team – Georgia (22) and THREE other top ten teams; Alabama (3), Missouri (8), and the eventual BCS Champion, FSU (1).

No wonder Nick and Bret were all afire to slow the pace of the game prior to the start of the 2014 season. Auburn’s rate of improvement under Gus Malzahn has upended the previous calculus for achieving an invitation to Atlanta.  Add to that the challenges of reaching the championship playoffs just raised the stakes of each and every game on the SEC schedule.  There is little room to absorb any losses, and none for any random upsets. The explosive potential of Malzahn’s offense makes the ‘Auburn Game’ a red letter date on every SEC West team’s schedule.  The road to Atlanta now goes through Auburn in addition to Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge.

In other words, Nick and his comic sidekick were advocating for more time despite the fact that the season just became significantly longer for them. 

facepalm-nick

Sorry Nick, you can’t have ten seconds. How about just one?

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  1. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I still think was was done to Cade Foster, both by his coaches and fan base was horrible. I remember John Vaughn missing five FGs in Baton Rouge, and you didn’t see Auburn fans exhorting him to drink bleach on the boards! Vaughn is remembered as a steady, game-winning presence during a spectacular Auburn run from 2003-2006, where Auburn went 27-6 in the SEC. Vaughn was 22-3 in the league his last three years as the starting kicker.

    …..I also remember a Wes Byrum missed FG, and a missed extra point in Nashville in 2008, as Auburn lost to Vanderbilt for the first time in 50 years. Parkey missed a few here and there, and one of the things that really hurt Auburn in the BCS Title Game was that Parkey couldn’t find the end zone in the second half on kickoffs. But you don’t see Auburn fans crucifying him.

  2. KungFuPanda9 KungFuPanda9 says:

    I like your methodology of comparing Auburn against other SEC teams. This removes a number of unknowns because of our historic knowledge of SEC teams and where they stack up in the conference. This solves the problem of relative strength against all teams and approaches absolute strength within the conference.

    The new NCAA format will have to solve the problem of absolute strength when trying to figure out how teams stack up against all other 124 teams, or whatever the number is now. Strength of schedule is the best attempt at doing this. But as we can see by FSU’s dominance, and Duke’s #2 ranking, within the ACC, absolute strength against all other 124 teams is difficult to judge based simply on how teams perform within conference.

    Sully, you have really grown into your role on this forum and are producing excellent articles of substance. Thanks for the effort.

  3. mvhcpa says:

    The important difference alluded to above, illustrated with words–

    AU fan: Let’s go over to Track ‘Em Tigers and see some excellent statistical work that illustrates what we have been seeing all year long and confirms AU was and will be playing great!

    Bama fan: Hey, let’s go look at that pitcher of that guy who put Saban all over his pickemup truck!

    Great work as always, Sully!

    Michael Val
    (who thinks it odd, being he is an accountant, that he works better with words than with numbers)

  4. DothanTiger DothanTiger says:

    Great post. Really enjoy your work and look forward to next edition.

  5. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    Excellent post. What concerns me is how will the NCAA playoff committee measure strength of schedule. As you point out that’s very difficult across conference lines. There could be more controversy with the new playoff format not less.